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White Sox Sun Jul 18 2010

Stunning Sox Loss is No Reason to Panic

SoxLogoSmall.jpegWell, that was quite a throat punch, wasn't it?

After dropping two of three close games against the Twins, the White Sox were three outs away from victory Sunday afternoon. With Bobby Jenks on to protect a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, the Sox seemed poised to escape Minnesota with a four-game split, salvaging some of the magic of their recent season-changing surge.

But Jenks had nothing, and Sergio Santos couldn't save him, either. Three walks, three singles and a climactic throwing error by center fielder Alex Rios [video] gave the Twins four ninth-inning runs and a stunning, 7-6 win.

However.

Before we get to the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, let's all calm down and revisit the AL Central standings. Chicago (50-41) leads both Detroit and Minnesota by 1.5 games, despite losing three of four games to the Twins this weekend.

Sunday's loss is obviously a massive disappointment, but there's absolutely no reason to panic about one game or one series, no matter who the opponent.

Kenny Williams, Ozzie Guillen and the rest of the Sox understand this. Baseball players, as much as any athletes, understand that each game or handful of games represents only a tiny fraction of a long, long season.

But on the outside, fans and media can't help but make every high and low into a moment of massive importance. Sunday's loss was barely in the books before Scott Merkin of WhiteSox.com was calling it "a potential defining moment" for the team's fortunes this season:

Defining, in a good way, if the White Sox put Minnesota's four-run, ninth-inning uprising immediately behind them, a game-winning rally put together by the Twins (49-43) without having a batter retired. Defining, in a bad way, though, if this kick-to-the-gut comeback against closer Bobby Jenks and Sergio Santos not only gives Minnesota momentum for one of its patented second-half runs but also takes the wind out of the White Sox sails.

To any rational observer, the odds are in fact overwhelming that this loss, shocking and dispiriting as it was, will have no discernable effect beyond an extra number in the loss column. It's unlikely we'll look back on this game as any kind of turning point, good or bad. Sports rarely works like that, especially baseball, and when it does, you almost never can see it happening at the time.

Athletes understand this philosophy instinctively, but Paul Konerko did a wonderful job explaining it after Friday's 7-4 loss, sidestepping cliché in a likely futile attempt to get the world outside the Sox clubhouse to understand that there's no point in assessing this season for several more months.

"It's really a kind of pass/fail thing,'' Konerko said. ''If you win this division, then this team was good. If we don't, nothing else matters as far as the makeup of the team or if we're good. The answer is still off in the distance.

"Is this one of these big turnarounds where the team takes it all the way, gets into the playoffs and it's a nice story, or was it just too much to ask to turn around, maintain that and then win the division? Everyone would like that answer, but you can't get it any other way than to go out and play the games."

On the other hand, the Sox play seven of their next 10 games against the second-worst team in the American League, the 36-56 Seattle Mariners. If they can't win at least five of those games, you have my permission to freak right out.

 
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